Insight: How thinking on your feet was the key to a strong result in Baku Grand Prix
Insight
Baku European Grand Prix 2016
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  21 Jun 2016   |  11:48 am GMT  |  72 comments

The new Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan threw up many surprises on arrival – the layout, the degree to which it favoured cars with greater engine power – but there were fewer surprises by the time the race came around.

As a high-speed street track, the indications from the support races were that this would be a race punctuated by Safety Cars, which would have a significant bearing on race strategy. But in the end it was a clean race and a relatively straight-forward one.

The most notable feature was Ferrari. One week after they took a gamble that failed in Canada, Ferrari seemed to be looking to do something different again on strategy. This time, instead of following orders, there was leadership from the cockpit of Sebastian Vettel’s car, which took the strategy in a different direction, while once again it didn’t work out particularly well for Kimi Raikkonen.

Kimi Raikkonen

Pre-Race expectations

Free Practice had shown that a simple one stop strategy with around 20 laps on Supersofts and around 30 on softs should be the best way. But the Supersoft is a tricky race tyre, as we saw in Canada, where most teams avoided it on race day.

The temperatures rose on Sunday in Baku and that pushed some teams over the edge on tyre management. Red Bull, having committed to running low downforce levels to maintain a competitive top speed on the long straight, found that the car was sliding in the corners and this led to graining on the Supersoft and forced them to make much earlier stops than were ideal. They were constrained to running a two stop plan, which meant that Daniel Ricciardo went from the front row to seventh, one of only a handful of cars to use the Medium tyre. The Medium was relatively strong at the end of the race for Max Verstappen, but just not a fast enough tyre to be competitive.

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton, starting tenth after a messy qualifying session, was obliged to follow a certain path in the race, due to a tyre set limitation for Supersoft tyres after his qualifying incidents led to a replacement tyre being issued. He was obliged to stick to Soft tyres for the race, after the first stint on Supersoft.

Most cars started on the Supersoft, but there were three drivers trying a ‘contra strategy’; a one stop starting with the Soft and a long first stint. These were Nico Hulkenberg, Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein. It didn’t really work out for them, Hulkenberg only made it to Lap 20, and then left himself with 31 laps to do on the Supersoft, which meant he ran out of tyre performance at the end, always a big risk with that kind of strategy. Wehrlein made it to Lap 29 but then fitted the Mediums.

One stop or two?

The first proper pitstops were for Verstappen and Fernando Alonso: both came in extremely early on Lap five for Soft tyres. This committed them to a two stop.

Also suffering graining in his Red Bull, Ricciardo pitted on Lap six, having been overtaken by Vettel. Ferrari saw the threat of an undercut and called Vettel in. But unlike Canada he questioned the call, arguing that the car felt good on the tyres. It was not clear who made the final call, but this interaction via radio showed a maturing of the process between team and driver.

That said, the Ferrari strategy in Canada was deliberately done to do something different from the leading Mercedes, based on reasoning that they would not beat them by doing the same thing.

Baku European Grand Prix 2016

In Baku there was a realisation that Mercedes was just too strong in any condition and Vettel could see that the Red Bulls were struggling with tyre wear, so Vettel’s race wasn’t really with Ricciardo it was about filling the gap behind Rosberg and trying to retain it against the expected move up through the field by Hamilton. Fortunately for Vettel and Ferrari, Hamilton had power unit issues, which prevented him from reaching the four times world champion.

Although Vettel did not pit early, Raikkonen did come in as Ferrari split the strategies. This had the effect that when Vettel stopped he had been undercut by his team mate, who then let him through as he was on fresher tyres.

For the leading cars, in contrast to Red Bull, the tyre degradation on the Supersoft was actually quite low; after 16 Laps Rosberg was still going quicker lap-by-lap.

Mercedes was able to look after the tyres in low speed corners, high tyre pressures don’t affect, good mechanical grip and low speed traction, and combined with power of the Merc engine, on this track that favoured engine power

Hamilton stopped on Lap 15, so comparing him to Rosberg on Lap 17 (still on supersoft) – 1’49.1 vs Hamilton’s 1’48.1on Soft – we get 0.05-0.08s/lap degradation, which is on the low side and in line with increasing pace lap-by-lap as the fuel burns off. This equates to a degradation equal to the fuel effect of around 0.07s or lower.

Nico Rosberg

Mercedes was easily the fastest team during the weekend and Rosberg just kept responding to Vettel’s pace after building a sizeable gap. After 15 or so laps he had enough gap that an Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car at the right moment could have enabled him to pit and still emerge ahead of Vettel and so the win would never have been in doubt.

This means that those stopping early on a two stop, or a one, for example Raikkonen, only have an advantage on covering the Safety Car for a very short time.

Everyone found the tyres were graining in the high track temperatures, but the answer was not to panic. Sergio Perez and Vettel saw this and extended their first stints, past the graining phase, to deliver strong podium results for their teams.

A final point worth noting is that, whereas the predictions for the brakes were that wear would be average, in fact there were more issues with brakes, simply because of the very high speeds and big stops.

Pascal Wehrlein

Report Sm Rect bann

The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli.

Race History Chart

Kindly provided by Williams Martini Racing, click to enlarge

Note the significant pace difference between the Mercedes and the rest, including Ferrari. Also look at the ‘undercut’ by Raikkonen (dotted red line) on Vettel (solid red line)

Williams Martini Racing

Williams Martini Racing

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72 comments

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1

Along with two other highlights of the race (the chequered flag and radio messages) Ferrari decision to call in Vettel early was a big surprise. It looked totally reactive and it looked the same sort of decision Ferrari made in 2012 when they were covering Webber which allowed Vettel to clinch the title. Perhaphs the fact that it was a personal experience for Vettel helped him to question it and stay on the track for a lot longer. When you start observing these small things here and there you understand that there is a lot chaos within Ferrari and what we have seen last year was an euphoria of a homeymoon.

2

Ferrari are looking like a team lacking in confidence again, second-guessing themselves and tripping over each other's feet as they try desperately to avoid making mistakes and by being so defensive fail to make the most of opportunities that do occur. Kudos to Vettel for questioning the call into the pits and thereby maxing the potential of his car on the day.

3

Vettel was absolutely right in not pitting. The team was simply 'pitting by the book,' the known way, the tried and true. Vettel 'sensed' something different, which James has brought to light in his great analysis. Vettel is probably one of the best at doing this kind of thing and being mostly right in his decisions. Going by the book, needs to be always thought through.

4

It also means that teams can get it wrong at times when they don't have the fastest car, but they need a driver/leader who can own up if something goes wrong after they have altered their strategy to whatever the results they score & maintain good team harmony & not start blame games.

Speaks so much about how Vettel is better leader than Alonso!! Read Vettel's post race interview, he said he was prepared for being undercut by RIC but he would have had fresher tyres towards the end so he thought he would be ok with that because he could overtake RIC towards the end if need be,in the end it wasn't required. Superb stuff that from Vettel.

And spl mention to Kimi too, the longest stint of Soft tyres & fairly reasonable pace till the very end.

5
Fernando 150% Alonso

I remember a certain race where Alonso was stuck behind Massa, HE made the call to pit early and undercut the Brazilian. And maybe James can give us other examples. I'm still waiting for Vettel to deliver a Valencia 2012, for us, the fans. I'm still waiting for him to push the championship to be decided in the last race, with the second best car. I will cheer for him if that will happen 😉

6

Point was that Vettel was going to own up to situation if he had lost the race to RIC, he wasn't gonna throw the team under the bus, like Alonso did on quiet a few occasions in his Ferrari Tenure.
Even Kimi didn't throw Mclaren under the bus, after he arguably lost 2 championships (2003/2005) due to reliability issues alone...
Schumi also didn't throw Ferrari under the bus..so on so forth.

7

Fantastic drive by Perez! I hope he gets snapped up by a bigger team soon. He makes Hulk look mediocre in comparison.

Also just leave the radio ban as is. The issue is the cars are too complicated, nothing to do with the rule. FIA should mandate that there should only be less than 10 settings available for engine power instead of the current 6 million...

8

Perez must be ruing the decision to go to McLaren. He was burnt badly and his confidence clearly took a beating. Comfortable in a non-front-running team he again is going through a purple patch after the Force India gets a major update. Same thing happened last year with him after the update iirc.

9

Actually he has nowhere to go. He dumped Ferrari [academy]. Mclaren dumped him. Merc has no seat. Williams and FI the only option

10

In an interview in Spanish checo was asked if he needed to be on a top team and said:
"No, I need a fast car, I have been in a top team before, all I need is a fast car

11

I remember how both McLaren and Perez were expecting this new Mexican - British synergy to produce a new F1 super-team! Now to be fair, I believe Perez did have some behavior issues at the time, but I would put that down to immaturity. Sadly, the great McLaren slump cost him a good chance at a big team, frustrated Jenson Button's hopes of a fitting end to his long career, and I have doubts Alonso's twilight will survive them as well. I can only pray that Ferrari realize, that Sergio would be a better option than Kimi, but I suspect Mexico does not buy enough Ferrari's for them to risk upsetting Vettel's position in that team.

12

Yes, Perez is definitely riding on confidence at the moment. Kinda similar to Ricciardo's qualy pace earlier. Harder to tell in Baku due to Redbull's slump in that track but wonder if his confidence in the team has gone down a notch and affected him mentally.

13

The issue is the cars are too complicateD

I'm not saying that you are necessarily wrong on that point, but it might be worth remembering that when the cars/PU's were designed the idea of a radio ban wasn't even up for discussion, let alone implementation. Ultimately it will just play into the hands of the rich teams as the cost of all the R&D in making things simpler but retaining effectiveness is beyond the smaller teams.

14

But the issue only got highlighted because Lewis was the one affected, no? If Nico or any other driver took 12 laps to sort the issue out, would there be entire articles about it? Or the whole broadcasting team trying to push for a change?

It's a drivers perogative to know his car inside out. This goes to Lewis, Kimi or Fernando. Max joined Redbull in the middle of a season and somehow managed to learn what he needs. So it's either the Mercedes is more complicated than Redbull or Nico did a better job studying.

15

Nico did a better job studying.

He may have, or he may not - we cannot possibly conclude that based on this incident. Nico switched his car into the wrong mode, called the pits and said he was down on power and they said it was due to the PU mode - so it was a relatively simple matter for him to think back on what he had adjusted and reverse the settings. In Hams case it was a setting that had been programmed incorrectly by the team prior to the race - Ham had no idea what they had done and could not therefore simply retrace his steps, as he hadn't made any adjustments. Two entirely different scenarios.
As for whether Max has learned what he needs - time will tell. This will surely happen to another driver and when it does we will see if they did their homework or not. It won't receive the same publicity, of course, because everything that Ham does or says is dissected in the minutest detail by the anti's looking for a crack to stick their knives into.

16

Fair enough about the situation with regards to Nico and Lewis. It's not 100% clear who was on what mode.

But saying this whole situation was highlighted because of anti Hamiltons is incorrect. If you recall, its the Lewis fan base and entire British broadcasting media that started calling for rules to be changed because it was Lewis affected. Again if Nico or any other driver was affected, no one would blink an eye and say rules are rules... Pot kettle black.

17

because of anti Hamiltons is incorrect....

Lol - have a read through the comments after the race. There are hundreds implying or just out right stating that it was Hams lack of preparation and or intelligence that was the issue. Very few talking about changing the rules. Also very few of the anti's were actually interested in the facts , they were simply interested in having a dig. Fair enough , they don't often get the chance, but don't let's pretend it was anything else.

18

and the luvvies are always stoking the embers. you reap what you sow...

19

C63. it seems that you have an obsession not only with Hamilton but also with the fans who don't support Hamilton. Reading your comments is part of my daily amusement schedule.

20

a true statement if ever there was one...

21

it seems that you....
Things are rarely as they seem, but if I managed to amuse you then that's all good by me ? This forum is only a bit of fun after all. But tell me more about this amusement schedule of yours - I'm intrigued as to how this works. What happens, for instance, if you see something amusing but it's outside the scheduled time? Can you still smile or do you have to note it down and go back later when you have an amusement session scheduled ?

22

After the race? How about during the race when broadcasters showed no impartiality and started the rule change lobbying?

23

another truism that will be lost on the luvvies.

24

broadcasters showed no impartiality

I read this sort of comment quite often and, whilst I'm sure there is some truth in it, I also believe it has a lot to do with perception. For example if you are watching a rugby match it can often feel like the ref is on the 'other' teams side but, in reality, what happens is that your brain registers the decisions which go against you and ignores the ones where you get the rub of the green, and you come away feeling like you've been 'robbed by the ref' . But the truth is; some decisions went for you and some against and it all came out about even in the end. I was watching the Sky coverage and it didn't feel like they were lobbying for a rule change to me - I was left with the overriding impression that they were trying to make what was actually quite a boring race sound like it was a real nail biter. This is something they do quite regularly and I suppose it's their job but I still find it irksome.

25

Disagree with you here C63.
The anti brigade (most of which exist because of the way he conducts himself outside of the car) will have their go, but that's a seperate issue to the calls for change to radio rules. It has definately been the brit-centric F1 media that have championed this push. I agree with Rockman here in that if it was almost anyone else -it would have barely rated a mention. Remember last year when Nico was having start issues and tapeing instructions to his steering wheel?

26

if it was almost anyone else

You're not wrong there - it's always about Ham, win or lose, love him or loathe him; he is the 'show'. The post race comments were almost exclusively discussing his performance rather than talking about how well Rosberg had driven. I guess that's why the media focus on him - they want readers/clicks and it's an easy way to get them. I'm not entirely sure it is a problem that is only brit-centric though. I like to watch Rugby and sometimes there are internationals from Australia or New Zealand where Sky use the host broadcasters feed and the 'local commentary' is often incredibly one sided. I guess, at the end of the day it's difficult, if not impossible, to please everyone all the time so it's easiest just to focus on the majority.

27

He would be a good candidate for a Ferrari or Williams seat.

28

Regarding PER:

No room at RBR, only academy kids apply
No room at MB, both drivers still have time to go and Pascal is in the wings
No room at McHonda with Stoffel waiting (not that Checo would show much interest anyway, but then, neither did Alonso)

So yes, Ferrari and Williams are the only way to go when either Kimi or Felipe are done
Williams would bring him podiums and an occasional win, and Ferrari hopefully regular wins after MB domination ends

The "letter to Santa" option is that Mr. Slim buys Force India from troubled Vijay and spends heavily in development to bring FI up one level

29
Andrew Halliday

Are you suggesting a new team, Force Mexico?

30

Si, Fuerza Mexico!

The facilities are there, the team is there, the experience is there. To me it seems they have been succesful in doing a pretty good job with limited resources. Maybe with a little help they could do better.

They just need to poach one or two aero designers, change the orange to red and that's it

31

Your "letter to Santa" option sounds interesting because given how rich is Mr. Slim he could totally pull it off and both Sergio and Force India would benefit from it.
No one knows when MB domination will end, but one thing everybody knows is that Ferrari works with a clear Driver Number One and Two structure. Checo has proven he is fast in a upper midfield car and that he has put his McLaren year behind him, but he would always be a number two to Vettel in Ferrari. If he can live with being given the subpar strategy and having his race thrown down the bus more often that not, then the prestige of wearing Red could be worth it. If not, Williams sounds as a much healthier environment unless Ferrari find their to domination or major competitiveness again. That being said, as a Kimi fan I am all for Checo getting a seat in a top team as long as it not in Ferrari in 2017 😛

32

I'm amazed that red bull reacted so fast, this race early on had echoes of Abu Dhabi 2010, where tyres grained, but if you just persisted and let them come good again, they were fine for many more laps. Funny enough, it was Vettel that profited in 2010, and Vettel that profited in Baku.

33

Considering how well the tyres were holding up for most of the runners and the one stop strategy, it would confirm Baku as a street circuit were qualifying position is important for success

I mean even a strategy battle between the Mercedes drivers (had they started 1-2) would have come down to the person ahead getting the first call for pitstops

Having said that, Baku is a much better street circuit similar to the likes of Montreal

34

@goferet, you know I keep your comments in high regard, but I am glad you were wrong predicting no more podiums from FI and Checo some races ago:)
Maybe next one for Hulk?

35

@ ferggsa

Hahaha thanks for compliment chief

And yes, hopefully Force India bag more podiums for the sport can do with more fairytales

As for Hulk, I am afraid not as he doesn't appear to have luck

36

@goferet, to me it seemed that overtaking was actually a bit too easy. I didn't see anything but DRS passes on the long straight. Track position wasn't worth much...

37

@ Garry

You have a point.

But considering Baku was a engine heavy track perhaps this also contributed to the easy overtaking

Therefore it could argued with engine parity in the future maybe overtaking won't be so straight forward

38

@goferet, yes, that probably also was a factor. However, I think the long straight in combination with DRS really limits the racing spectacle, which is a pity. You will not see many overtakes - or attempts - in unconventional places because of that. A solution would be to disable DRS on the long straight during the entire race.

39

Surely as a driver if you have an issue you cannot fix but the team can you pit!

40

I agree, in the old days hardware broke and drivers either retired, or pitted to have the mechanics fix it or nursed it home (in 3rd gear, or with no brakes, or an overheating engine), just ask Senna or Hill Sr or Stewart or Fangio

Nowadays hardware is almost unbreakable but software fails so they should retire, pit and have the team nerd fix it or nurse it home (down on power, lights blinking, no harvesting, too much harvesting)

HAM was losing .4 -.5 secs a lap with +- 20 laps left to go is less than 10 seconds, so making a 25 second pit stop to fix it is not worth it
So he had no choice but to keep driving at the same speed as all other mid field cars, poor chap 🙂

41

FERRARI should give him a go.
But will miss the Kimi radio chatter.

42

Are you suggesting that Red Bull should have carried on to see if the tyres would get better again? I've not read that anywhere else but it's an interesting thought. On the other hand I have read somewhere that during the graining their laptimes dropped with more than 2 seconds. That only gives the rubber so many laps to recover to still have an advantage.

43

It really was dull wasn't it? Good drives from the top three, dotd has to be Perez, he really is making Hulkenberg look average isn't he? Nothing else really happened though, no safety cars, despite the 100% chance predictions pre race, no overtakes without DRS and no action to speak of. I guess we have been a bit spoilt this season, but this was more like a race from the V10 days....

44

Are you suggesting that the V10 days were boring? Sacrilege 😉

45

Random, of course not, I would love to have heard the popping and farting of the traction control bouncing around the walls of the castle....

46

Nicely done Tim 🙂

47

I'm surprised that Perez was not mentioned more in this analysis because I think he was definitely the driver of the weekend (apart from his little shunt in FP3). It would have been interesting to know if he could have bagged second if he hadn't have had a grid penalty. It was also a shame that we didn't find out if he could have kept Hamilton behind him without him having the PU problem. I'm not completely convinced that Hamilton would have got past him as Perez was locked in on this circuit very impressive.

I was expecting a safety car this race (and believe there definitely will be one in the next race here). Hamilton with a fully working PU and a timely safety car bunching up the grid would have made an exciting race.

Am I right in thinking that they are allowed to give the drivers technical information if they are in the pits? Would his engineers been allowed to tell him which switch to flick when they are changing his tyres? Purely academic now but would be interesting to know and I believe a reasonable compromise on the rule if not.

48

The Strategy Ferrari imposed to Kimi was R-I-D-I-C-U-L-O-U-S.
8 + 43 laps?

And people still criticize him.
The Iceman has shown a lot of skills to finish the race without crashing.

49

Well you know, it's Kimi, when it comes to his racing and results everybody is a critic ;(
Vettel found that strategy as ridiculous as you did and that's why he stayed out, being the number one driver gives him that prerrogative ;). Kimi with his renewal on the line went along with it and somehow made it work good enough to keep P4, and he would have certainly got P3 without the penalty and/or the precious seconds he lost letting Seb past him on track.
I am a huge fan of both Vettel and him, and it never ceases to amaze me how different the reactions are before the same situation: when he gets a second place (Spain, Bahrain) everybody criticizes him for not winning the race and when Seb gets the same position it's widely accepted that was the limit Ferrari could aspire to. Kimi is somehow expected to do the impossible, when it's clear that both him and Vettel are pushing their unpredictable 2016 Ferrari to its limits.

50

Exactly, their chief strategist is taking crazy pills!

51

A new track and it looks as if each team made the best of it. A pity for Raikkonen that Ferrari split the strategy, bu t in the end it would only have made 1 place different (3 iso 4).
For me this race once again showed how bad a car the Williams is. I would much rather drive a McLaren than a Williams.
James, would it have been a reasonable option for RedBull to switch to mediums imediately on the first stop? I thought at least one of the cars, prefarably Verstappen, should have done that. In a perfect world the softs would have been good, then Ricciardo could have fought for podium. Else, in case the softs degraded too fast, Verstappen could maybe end up 5 or 6.

52

The soft was the mandatory tire. The way around that would have been to qualify in Q2 on the soft and to do a one-stop to change to the medium, which was interestingly by far the fastest tire for RBR. With hindsight this would have probably yielded a P4 for Max.

53

The softs were the mandatory tire from Pirelli, so they had to use them anyway.

54

James, can you confirm something for me (us). I saw on another site (I think Andrew Benson on BBC) that the engine derates on Lewis car happened as early as Lap 4 of the race and that contributed to his inability to move up the line more aggressively on Saturday. Have you any insight on this since we did not hear about a problem until close to the middle of the race!

55

I'd be very surprised if that was true, it's pretty obvious from the chart above when the engine problems kicked in, he was right behind Perez immediately before & after the pitstops and then dropped 10 seconds behind.

56

Frederick, I would advise taking anything Mr A Benson says with a large pinch of salt.

57

I try not to pick on the British media because it is part of their job to help push British drivers, but I was surprised by that suggestion.

58

...It is too obvious and probably stated already elsewhere - but I have to admit a quiet admiration for Tilke's ability to give us a 225mph STREET circuit, winding through turrets and alley-ways with seemingly disasterous brick walls closing in everywhere... but still ensure that every racing lap is identical to both the previous and the next one.
A drama and excitement-free afternoon assured seemingly wherever his services are employed!

59

Please explain MacLarens half-baked strategy. They had open choice on starting tire, yet Alo pits after only 5 laps and puts on the yellows for the rest of the race. Were they begging to get embarrassed on the long straights? Who is calling the shots there? Pathetic. Alo back to Ferrari please!

60

Checo should get himself over to Indy car because his ability to drive a car fast and look after the tyres could get him the recognition if deserves. I'm a mclaren fan but think they treated him poorly,his attitude was no different to Lewis as a rookie,the only difference was that one of them had a winning car.

61

Hamilton matched and beat (albeit by the narrowest of margins) Alonso, the two time defending champion in his rookie year, Perez was outscored by Button, their first years at McLaren were not the same.

62

Another shambles from Ferrari's so called strategist, flinching every time Red Bull makes a move. Good on Seb to question it. But it didn't stop Kimi's race being ruined by pitting him unnecessarily early which left him short on tyres and falling into the clutches of Perez who had far better tyres at the end of the race.

63

It lost Kimi a couple of seconds to do the switch, plus the back markers who think they should race the leaders, otherwise he could have made it.

64

By the way, I was in Baku couple of years ago, the impression was just excellent, very nice city, but what surprised me is that when I turned my GPS it showed surprisingly -30 to -40 m, so the Caspian see is below ocean level, I think turbines were to rev a bit slower in comparation to other circuits, e.g. in Mexico last year the engineers increased compressor rev by 5% because of altitude effect.

65

Could someone please elaborate how was Hamilton obliged to stick to Soft tyres? Is there a rule? Was it marshals' decision?

66

He didn't have any other fresh tyres for the race because he'd flat spotted all his super soft tyres in qualifying. The mediums were never an option because they were too slow and they only needed to be used if the car had extreme graining a la Red Bull.

67

James, why did Mercedez in notice Hamilton being in the incorrect set configuration from the start? Surely the lack of ERS deployment would have been showing on there systems? Seems like Hamilton brought it to their attention.

68

James, can you please confirm this latest directive from the FIA: there will be a Safety Car in next year's Baku race whether there is an accident or not.

69

What does the y axis in racechart exactly represent?

70

Horizontal axis is number of laps
Vertical is lap time in seconds and illustration of gaps

71

But what does zero exactly mean? It isn't fastest lap, nor average nor ROS's last. I'm lost on this question.

72

It's the average lap speed of the winner hence why it ends where it does

The illustration is of pace and gaps

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